European Union - POLSKA УКРАЇНА

EU, US Demand Release of Kremlin Critic as Calls Grow for ‘Magnitsky’ Sanctions

Western leaders have demanded the release of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who was arrested Sunday on arrival in Moscow after receiving medical treatment in Germany.The 44-year-old Putin critic and leader of the Russia of the Future party was poisoned by a nerve agent in Siberia last August. The Kremlin denies involvement in that attack.“The Russian authorities have arrested the victim of an attempted assassination with a chemical weapon, not the perpetrator,” German government spokesperson Steffen Seibert told reporters Monday. “The German government strongly calls on the Russian government to first of all release Mr. Navalny immediately and secondly to fully investigate the circumstances of the chemical weapons attack on Russian soil,” he added.Other European leaders echoed that demand, while the United Nations’ human rights office said it was “deeply troubled” by Navalny’s arrest.U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo used the same words on Twitter: “Deeply troubled by Russia’s decision to arrest Aleksey Navalny. Confident political leaders do not fear competing voices, nor see the need to commit violence against or wrongfully detain, political opponents.”President-elect Joe Biden’s incoming national security adviser Jake Sullivan tweeted: “Mr. Navalny should be immediately released, and the perpetrators of the outrageous attack on his life must be held accountable. The Kremlin’s attacks on Mr. Navalny are not just a violation of human rights, but an affront to the Russian people who want their voices heard.”Navalny was arrested as he entered passport control in Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport Sunday evening. Dozens of his supporters, who had gathered at a different airport before Navalny’s plane was diverted, were also taken into custody. There were further arrests Monday in St. Petersburg as his supporters staged street protests.Police officers detain a man at Moscow’s Vnukovo airport where Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny is expected to arrive, outside Moscow, Russia, Jan. 17, 2021.In a rapidly convened, highly unusual judicial hearing Monday inside Khimki police station on the outskirts of the capital, a judge ruled that Navalny should be held in pretrial detention for 30 days for breaching the conditions of a suspended jail sentence.Prosecutors want the 3½-year suspended sentence for embezzlement converted into a full jail term. Navalny says the charges are politically motivated. In a mobile phone video recorded from inside the police station Monday, he said the hearing was a “mockery of justice.”“I do not understand why the hearing of the Khimki court is taking place at a police station. Why no one was informed or notified? I have seen a lot of times the mockery of justice, but it looks like the old man in his bunker (Putin) is so scared of everything, that the criminal procedures’ code has been blatantly torn up and thrown into the garbage. The thing which is happening here is simply impossible. This is the highest degree of lawlessness,” Navalny said.He called on his supporters to take to the streets.“Don’t be silent, resist, take to the streets. Nobody would protect us but ourselves. But we are so many that if we want to achieve something, we will achieve it,” he said.Navalny tried to run for president in 2018 but was barred following his conviction for embezzlement, which he says was fabricated. His return to Russia presents a challenge to President Vladimir Putin, says Russia analyst Ben Noble of University College London.“With the State Duma elections coming up in 2021, not only is Navalny a visible demonstration of opposition to the Kremlin, his anti-corruption foundation and its production of very slick YouTube videos with evidence of corruption of state officials and other members of the economic elite in Russia are an embarrassment for the Kremlin. It’s certainly a danger for the Kremlin that Navalny turns into a martyr or his status as a martyr is consolidated,” Noble told VOA.Western nations have so far stopped short of punitive action. The EU last month joined allies in adopting a so-called Magnitsky Act, which allows for sanctions on individuals accused of human rights abuses. Financier Bill Browder, who was instrumental in pushing the legislation following the death of his lawyer Sergei Magnitsky in a Moscow jail, told VOA it’s time the laws were put into action.“If you include all the countries of the EU, the U.S., Canada, the U.K., there are 31 countries. And so that will have a very significant effect on Russia, on the people who are sanctioned. And as I understand it, Navalny and his team, before they got on the plane, have constructed some type of list of who they think should be on this sanctions list.”Putin sees that outcome as the lesser risk, Noble said.“The logic I imagine in the Kremlin will be that they can deal with that short-term turbulence; but getting him – this is an expectation – getting him in prison would be a way of depriving him of that media exposure,” Noble said. In a press conference Monday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov dismissed criticism of Navalny’s arrest.“Western politicians view this as an opportunity to draw attention away from the deepest crisis the liberal development model has found itself in,” Lavrov said.Analysts say Russia’s actions will exacerbate tensions with the West, as both sides prepare for a new U.S. administration to take power this week under President-elect Joe Biden. 

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Should Social Media Platforms Lose Legal Protection?

The decision by social media giants to police more content, along with banning U.S. President Donald Trump and some of his supporters from posting, is intensifying a debate in Europe over how to regulate platforms such as Facebook and Twitter.The hotly contested debate has mostly focused on whether governments should intervene to censor and curtail freedom of speech, or whether they should protect opinion from being blocked or scrubbed by the social media giants, however offensive the views. But a growing number of European leaders sees a third way to reduce fake news, hate speech, disinformation and poisonous personal attacks — by treating social media providers not as owners of neutral platforms connecting consumers with digital content creators but as publishers in their own right. This would help sidestep fears over state censorship of speech, they say.Amending laws to make them legally responsible, just as traditional newspapers and broadcasters are for the content they carry, would render the social media companies liable for defamation and slander lawsuits. By blocking content and banning some users, social media companies have unwittingly boosted the argument that they are content providers, as they are now in practice taking on a greater role as editors of opinion.British Prime Minister Boris Johnson holds a news conference in Downing Street on the outcome of the Brexit negotiations, in London, Dec. 24, 2020.“I do think there’s a real debate now to be had about the status of the big internet companies and whether they should be identified as mere platforms or as publishers, because when you start editorializing, then you’re in a different world,” British Prime Minister Boris Johnson told a parliamentary committee last week. Many European Union leaders have criticized social media companies for banishing Trump and his supporters from their platforms. Facebook has blocked or deleted content that uses the phrase, “Stop the Steal,” which refers to false claims of election fraud. Twitter says it has suspended more than 70,000 accounts of QAnon conspiracy theorists who believe Trump is waging a secret war against elite Satan-worshipping pedophiles in government, business and the media.German Chancellor Angela Merkel addresses the media during a statement at the chancellery in Berlin, Germany, Nov. 9, 2020 on the results of the US elections.German Chancellor Angela Merkel expressed her concerns about the blocking and deleting, calling it a step too far.“The right to freedom of opinion is of fundamental importance,” her spokesperson, Steffen Seibert, told reporters.Some countries led by populist governments, such as Poland, are considering drafting legislation that would prohibit Facebook, Twitter and other social media companies from censoring opinions, fearing the social media giants will censor them.But political pressure is also mounting in other countries for the state to regulate speech and to police social media platforms.The idea that social media companies should be subject to similar regulation as newspapers and television and radio broadcasters is not new. Newspaper owners have long bristled at the social media platforms being treated differently under the law from traditional media. They have complained that Facebook and others are piggy backing off the content they produce, while reaping massive profits selling ads.FILE – The Facebook application is displayed on a mobile phone at a store in Chicago, July 30, 2019.Last year, Facebook pushed back on the idea of social media platforms being treated like traditional media, arguing in a report that they should be placed in a separate category halfway between newspapers and the telecommunications industry. The company agreed that new regulatory rules are needed but argued they should focus on the monitoring and removal of mechanisms that firms might put in place to block “harmful” posts, rather than restrictions on companies carrying specific types of speech or being liable for content. Johnson’s advocacy of treating social media giants like traditional media is being echoed in the United States, where Congress passed the Communications Decency Act in 1996. The measure largely allowed the companies to regulate themselves and shielded them from liability for much of the content posted on their platforms.Section 230 of the legislation stated: “No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.” Ironically, Section 230 has drawn the disapproval of both Trump and President-elect Joe Biden. Both have called for the section’s repeal, which would make social media legally responsible for what people post, rendering them vulnerable to lawsuits for defamation and slander. Last week, Biden told The New York Times he favored the internet’s biggest liability shield being “revoked, immediately.” 

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Winter Weather Hits Parts of Europe, From Poland to Turkey

Extreme cold has hit large parts of Europe, with freezing temperatures cracking railroad tracks in Poland, snow blanketing the Turkish city of Istanbul and smog spiking as coal was being burned to generate heat.
Temperatures dropped to minus 28 degrees Celsius (minus 18 Fahrenheit) in some Polish areas overnight, the coldest night in 11 years. Many trains were delayed on Monday after rail tracks at two Warsaw railway stations cracked.
Hand-in-hand with the cold came a spike in smog in Warsaw and other parts of Poland, as the cold prompted an increase in burning coal for heat. The smog levels were so high in Warsaw that city officials urged people to remain indoors.
Just across Poland’s southwestern border, the Czech Republic experienced the coldest night this year with temperatures dropping below minus 20 degrees Celsius (minus 4 Fahrenheit) in many places.
The lowest temperature, of minus 27 degrees Celsius (minus 16 Fahrenheit), was recorded Monday in Orlicke Zahori, a mountainous village 160 kilometers (100 miles) east of Prague and near the Polish border, according to the Czech Hydrometeorological Institute.
The freezing weather was expected to ease and be replaced by heavy snowfall in the northeastern Czech Republic, the institute said.
In Istanbul, traffic was brought to a halt by the layer of snow covering the city, with cars stalled or skidding on the roads. The flurries were to continue throughout the day.
In Germany, fresh snow, slippery roads and fallen trees led to several car accidents on Sunday and overnight, the dpa news agency reported. A driver died in southwestern Germany after his car shot over a mound of snow.
The Nordic region — where winter weather is the norm — also saw snow and subfreezing temperatures, with the coldest temperatures predictably recorded in the Arctic. Norway’s meteorological institute tweeted a tongue-in-cheek message on Monday, saying: “we encourage all knitting lovers to send woolen clothes to their friends in the north.”

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Markets Mixed in Face of Economic, Political Turmoil

European markets are mixed Monday as investors pull back in response to last week’s dismal U.S. retail figures, along with the worsening COVID-19 pandemic and the aftermath of the January 6 siege of the U.S. Capitol building.   
 
Britain’s FTSE index is down 0.3% at midday.  France’s CAC-40 index is also 0.3% lower, while the DAX index in Germany is up 10 points but unchanged percentage-wise (+0.08%).   
 
Asian markets began the trading week on a downward spiral hours earlier.  Japan’s benchmark Nikkei index fell 0.9%.  Australia’s S&P/ASX index closed down 0.7%.  The KOSPI index in South Korea plunged 2.3%, while Taiwan’s TSEC lost just over 4 points, but was virtually unchanged percentage-wise (0.03%) and the Sensex in Mumbai was down 0.9%.
 
Shanghai’s Composite index closed 0.8% higher and Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index rose just over one percent, spurred by news that China’s economy grew 2.3% in 2020, overcoming the COVID-19 pandemic that has shattered much of the global economy.   
 
In commodities trading, gold is up 0.1%, selling at $1,831.80.  U.S. crude oil is selling at $52.19, down 0.3%, and Brent crude is selling at $54.82, down 0.5%.    
 
All three major U.S. indices are closed in observance of the annual Martin Luther King, Jr. federal  holiday.  

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Leading Greek Sporting Official Resigns Following Rape Charges 

A leading Greek sporting official has resigned over allegations that he sexually assaulted Olympic sailing champion Sofia Bekatorou. The revelation has sparked an urgent judicial investigation, prompting more alleged victims to speak out about similar sexual assaults. But prosecuting the alleged offenders may prove impossible due to ineffective laws. 
Greeks are already calling her the silence breaker. And 23 years after the alleged rape took place during qualifying matches for the 2000 Games in Sydney, Sofia Bekatorou now says she wants more women victims to speak out.   “The messages I am receiving are hugely positive and supportive,” she said. Bekatorou says she knows more victims are out there in the field of sport and is calling on them all to make their accusations known.   A gold medalist at the 2004 Olympics in her homeland, Bekatorou referred to the alleged rape during an online conference organized by the Greek Sports Ministry over the weekend. She refused to name the official at the time, but when a local prosecutor called her in during an urgent probe, she is said to have identified Aristides Adamopoulos, then a senior member of the Hellenic Sailing federation. He is also a local official of the ruling New Democracy party.   Bekatorou is due to reappear before the prosecutor by Tuesday to provide additional details – accusations that Adamopoulos has not denied. Adamopoulos has urged he public to refrain from reaching what he called any rash decision.   Andonis Dimitrakopoulos, the president of the federation, said he pushed Adamopoulos to resign over the weekend to clear his name. Dimitrakopoulos said the sporting organization was not aware of the alleged assault and more importantly, would have helped put a lid on the entire affair if Adamopoulos had sought out the support of the federation. Bekatorou says the admission left her stunned. “That the federation would respond to such a serious accusation in such a way is just regrettable,” she said.   Two other leading athletes have since spoken out about similar alleged assaults, including national water polo champion Mania Bikoff, who alleges her team doctor sexually harassed her decades ago. The doctor, who was not named, did not respond to the accusation.    “I was going in for shoulder treatments and he was asking me to instead pull down my pants. He never did anything but would sit there and observe me naked,” said Bikoff. The Hellenic Olympic Committee has also opened an investigation.   For a small, close-knit society like Greece, public revelations of this sort are uncommon, even as #MeToo movements grip countries across the globe.     But even if a subtle change in the country’s cultural mindset is starting to take form, pundits warn that laws lag far behind.   Rape offenders in Greece can face between five and 20 years in prison if convicted. A statue of limitations has already expired in the case of Adamopoulos.   Legal experts contacted by VOA say related laws should now be revised to have the timing on the statute of limitations begin when alleged victims like Bekatorou report the offense.  

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Navalny Flying Back to Russia with Threat of Arrest Looming

Russian opposition figure Alexey Navalny is on his way back to Russia from Germany despite the Russian authorities’ stated desire to arrest him and potentially jail him for years.Navalny is flying to Moscow from Berlin, where he has received months of medical treatment for a poisoning that he has blamed on the Russian authorities.The outspoken Kremlin critic announced on January 13 that he would return to Russia despite having received a notice that the country’s Federal Penitentiary Service (FSIN) would seek his arrest.His return sets the stage for a potentially dramatic new showdown between the Kremlin and Navalny, one of President Vladimir Putin’s most outspoken foes.Police patrol the arrival hall of Vnukovo airport outside Moscow, Russia, prior to opposition figure Alexei Navalny’s arrival, Jan. 17, 2021.Late last month, FSIN demanded Navalny return immediately from Germany or face jail in Russia for violating the terms of a suspended prison sentence relating to a 2014 fraud conviction and for evading criminal inspectors.According to court documents, he could face a jail sentence of as much as 3 1/2 years.“The question ‘to return or not’ never stood before me as I didn’t leave on my own. I ended up in Germany in an intensive care box. On January 17, Sunday, I will return home on a Pobeda flight,” he said in a tweet on January 13, referring to a Russian airline whose name means Victory.His supporters plan to meet him at Moscow’s Vnukovo airport. About 2,000 people have used a Facebook page to say they plan to be there, with another 6,000 expressing an interest. Pro-Kremlin activists are also expected to turn up.The Moscow Prosecutor-General’s Office has said the event is illegal because it is not sanctioned by the authorities.Citing COVID-19 restrictions, the airport has said it will not allow media inside.ComaNavalny fell ill on a flight from Tomsk to Moscow and was treated and placed in an induced coma in a Siberian hospital before being transferred to a medical facility in Germany.Lab tests in three European countries, confirmed by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, established Navalny was poisoned with a nerve agent of the Novichok class. The findings led the European Union to imposed sanctions on six Russian officials and a state research institute.Russian authorities have claimed that no trace of poison was found in Navalny’s body before he was airlifted to Germany, and have refused to open a criminal investigation into the incident.FILE – Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny poses for a selfie picture with his family at Berlin’s Charite hospital, Germany, Sept. 15, 2020. (Credit: Instagram @navalny)On the eve of his return, Navalny thanked the German people in a Facebook post and said they don’t fit the stereotype that they are unfriendly and only want to give and follow orders.“The five months I’ve been here, I’ve been amazed how much the Germans don’t match the stereotypical idea of them,” Navalny wrote. “These are really the sweetest people with a great sense of humor, always trying to help.””Thank you friends!” he wrote in German.Earlier on January 16, Germany demanded that Moscow carry out a full investigation into the poisoning and sent to Russia the transcripts of interviews its authorities conducted with him.The German Justice Ministry said that, with the sending of the information requested by Moscow — including blood and tissue samples — the Russian government now has all the information it needs to carry out a criminal investigation.A ministry spokesman said Berlin expects that “the Russian government will now immediately take all necessary steps to clarify the crime against Mr. Navalny.””This crime must be solved in Russia. This requires investigations commensurate with the seriousness of this crime,” the spokesman added. 

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Iran’s Zarif to France: Avoid ‘Absurd Nonsense’ about Tehran’s Nuclear Work 

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Sunday dismissed a claim by France that Tehran was in the process of building up its nuclear weapons, calling it “absurd nonsense”. French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, in an interview with the Journal du Dimanche published on Saturday, said Iran was building up its nuclear weapons’ capacity and it was urgent that Tehran and Washington return to a 2015 nuclear agreement.”Dear colleague: You kick-started your cabinet career with arms sales to Saudi war criminals. Avoid absurd nonsense about Iran,” Zarif said in a Twitter post, in which he tagged his French counterpart @JY_LeDrian. French President Emmanuel Macron’s government has drawn criticism from some countries and rights groups over its support of Saudi Arabia’s actions and allowing weapons it has sold to Riyadh potentially to be used in its Yemen operations. “Reality check: YOU are destabilizing OUR region. Stop protecting criminals who chainsaw their critics and use YOUR arms to slaughter children in Yemen,” Zarif tweeted, referring to Le Drian’s previous post as French defense minister. Iran, which denies seeking to make nuclear bombs, rejected a statement on Saturday by three European powers party that warned the Islamic Republic against starting work on uranium metal-based fuel for a research reactor, saying it violated the nuclear pact and had serious military implications. Zarif criticized France, Germany and Britain — which remain in the deal with China and Russia – for failing to enforce the agreement since 2018, when U.S. President Donald Trump abandoned the deal and restored harsh economic sanctions on Iran. “E3 leaders — who rely on [the] signature of OFAC functionaries to carry out their obligations under JCPOA [the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action] have done ZILCH to maintain JCPOA [the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action]. Remember @EmmanuelMacron’s stillborn initiative or UK non-payment of court-ordered debt? JCPOA is alive because of Iran and not E3,” Zarif tweeted. U.S. President-elect Joe Biden, who takes office on Jan. 20, has pledged to return the United States to the deal “if Iran resumes strict compliance” with the agreement that imposed strict curbs on its nuclear activities in return for the lifting of sanctions. In reaction to Trump’s “maximum pressure” policy, Iran has gradually breached many of the deal’s restrictions. But Tehran says it could quickly reverse those steps if Washington first lifts its sanctions. 

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For Undocumented Afghan Migrants in Turkey, Life is Hard but Better

Turkey has often been described as the gateway between Asia and Europe and because of its location, millions of refugees have arrived in the country as a way station in their effort to migrate to Europe. VOA’s Hilmi Hacaloglu and Umut Colak filed this report on how Afghan refugees are struggling to survive in Istanbul. Bezhan Hamdard narrated their report. 
Camera: Umut Colak         Producers: Hilmi Hacaloglu and Umut Colak

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